Industry » Features » Skullduggery at Sea Aka “How to Cook the Books”

Skullduggery at Sea Aka “How to Cook the Books”

shawn englebrecht cass global new3

We’ve all done it. If you are in the service industry, sooner or later, you will take a swim in these murky waters.

That includes providers of security services, who find themselves in identical conditions to the situation about to be described. So we feel your pain because all too often we are suffering right beside you.

So here is what happens. You secure a contract with a reasonable margin. The client is type A++++ and is more demanding than most, although it may not appear so at time of initial consultation.

You diligently explain the working parameters and the client concurs. You explain hours, cover what is included and what is not, and painstakingly explain that the crew are people, not robots. All good.

The charter sails. The crew perform superbly, raising the service bar to stellar heights. Outstanding.

Around day three or so, mission creep develops. The scope of work mysteriously expands, expectations somehow become higher, and the cocktail parties run into the wee hours of the morning as opposed to shutting down at midnight. The crew says nothing, sucks it up, and continues to drive on to the best of their ability.

Working hours increase as sleep deprivation erodes judgment. It’s the little things at first. Cutlery is dropped, glasses are broken, and somebody is ten minutes late for shift.

A few days later it gets worse. Somebody falls asleep on watch. Service staff, overworked and fatigued, snap back when an overly insistent client presses home yet another demand.

Client Outrage. Promptly followed by a sat phone call to charter management, explaining in full the lack of...pick one:

  • Tact

  • Professionalism

  • Performance

  • Any combination of the above

charter 5

Management, conscientiously following the script, promptly reinforces the theorem that bad things, when launched from above, pose the greatest danger to those who dwell at the bottom of the hill. The crew is threatened, cajoled, pleaded with, etc, in an effort to keep the client happy.

The final results are sadly predictable. The client leaves without saying anything. The crew resemble zombies more than humans. Management is distressed over the potential loss of a return booking.

And the books themselves are cooked, sheep dipped, and altered in breathtaking fashion to ensure all the hours tally. So the default position states that it was, “just another charter.”

Everybody loses because all we have done is to buttress the status quo, reinforcing the norm with the expectation of a different result down the road. Which is very close to the definition of insanity.

For what its worth, we (as in CASS Global) have had similar experiences, where the client is never satisfied, good teams are worked into the point of despair, and there is a patent disconnect between ivory tower management and the guy in the field. CASS Global mandates five hours of uninterrupted sleep per operator per night for long term-sustained operations. It’s not a happy number, but we can make it work. Anything less puts the entire operation at risk due to reduced cognitive functions on the part of the employees. The client is fully aware of this in advance via comprehensive briefings, and if the magic number is hit in the midst of his all night dinner party (as we warned him about) then we pull the plug and shut down, regardless of the level of screaming in the background.

How did we get there?


All you have to do is watch an employee of a sister company go home in a body bag.

It was a stupid accident, in the Middle East, over a decade ago. An individual executed a single motor vehicle accident and rolled it, killing himself in the process. Bottom line was he fell asleep at the wheel, pure and simple.

The reality, brought home in full force on the “morning after”, was that we were conducting risk mitigation through tinted lenses, and failing to apply to ourselves the standards we held out to our clients. It wasn’t noble or brave. It was stupid. In hindsight, it probably could have been avoided which makes it stupid AND tragic. After action reviews and lessons learned are great, save for the fact that they don’t bring the dead back to life.


So like most “for profit” companies we tread very carefully when it comes to picking fights with clients for, in the private world, one must ponder long and hard over which hills are in fact worth fighting for.

But if the hill IS worth the effort (such as five hours sleep a night) then we defend that position by every means available, to include pulling the plug on the client if we have no other alternative.

The amazing part is that (post implementation) our issues, in terms of professional performance with clients, have actually gone DOWN.


Because 95% of them, when briefed in a professional manner, fully comprehend our position and never try to probe the defenses in the first place. They “get it”.

And for the 5% of those who don’t “get it”?


For they will never truly comprehend because the only thing they have to work with is a mirror which is permanently positioned about six inches in front of their nose. We know of a domestic service provider who burned through 20 housekeepers in under a year. The VERY famous person found something wrong with every single one.

Guess what folks……it wasn’t the housekeepers. That very famous person lived in one world. Her own. To us, she represented the incredible shrinking woman and we treated her accordingly. We weren’t totally rude….we reminded her not to let the door hit her in the ass on the way out... My point being, if you set yourself up to be trampled upon, you will be.

stink bugs

Being predestined to fail is not a concept we handle well so we simply reject the 5% who represent 90% of the headaches. This way one is able to build a much better long-term portfolio in every respect. It has certainly worked for us.

The key to our success was being completely transparent with the clients. They knew up front what they were getting into. By doing this, we are actually providing structure where none existed beforehand. It works. You just have to have the intestinal fortitude to stand firm, regardless of fame, celebrity, or wealth. As an added bonus, we no longer have to doctor time sheets. Which was the whole purpose of the exercise in the first place.

If every private charter with an over-extended crew suffering from mission creep represented a monkey with a typewriter, sooner or later random statistics dictate that Shakespeare will be the final product.

MacBeth is most likely, because the results will be grim, coming in the form of a sunken vessel, serious injury or death, to either passenger or crew. And during the inevitable audit, the appropriate authorities will discover ongoing and deliberate falsification of duty logbooks.

Then the kimche will REALLY hit the rotor blades.

I could go on and on for another few pages, but the point has been made. As a service provider, we also stood on the edge of this abyss for a while, and took a long hard look at the black depths below. And after watching somebody else fall into eternity we opted to step back.

No regrets and we are a stronger company for our decision.

That’s been our experience.

So I guess the question is, “If you are tap dancing on the edge, what are YOU going to do?”

Because the effects of your decision can be permanent.

As in fatally permanent.

Choose wisely.

*Image credits: Flickr/Flickr
First published 15 April 2015.

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